Is My Church Really A New Testament Church?
Many churches claim to base all that they do upon the New Testament,
but the sad fact is that most churches claiming to be "evangelical" practice
very little of what the Scriptures have patterned for local assemblies. To mention just a
few, please consider the following and ask yourself, "Is my church practicing
1. The New Testament teaches that the local church is to be pastored
and taught by a plurality of scripturally qualified men known as elders (Acts 20:17,28; 1
Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4). This
being true, why are most of our churches only pastored by one man (i.e., "the
pastor")? Why do so many churches today divide their leadership into a hierarchy of
"senior pastor," "associate pastor," and "board of elders"
– particularly when the New Testament makes no such distinctions among congregational
"Despite all the New
Testament says about church elders, the subject has been deeply misunderstood or ignored.
Many evangelical churches that sincerely claim to base their church structure on holy
Scripture do not even have a body of elders. These churches have ignored the pastoral
oversight of the church by a plurality of elders – a concept plainly set forth in
Scripture – and replaced it with a one-man pastor, which is inadequately defensible
by Scripture. Even most Presbyterian churches (and others that claim to be governed by a
scriptural plurality of elders) have redefined church eldership so that its original
purpose and noble standing have, in practice, been eclipsed by the ordained minister and
his staff" (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership [Littleton, CO: Lewis &
Roth Publishers, 1986] p.12).
2. The New Testament teaches that church shepherds are to arise from
the church’s own rank and assembly (Acts 14:23; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:5). This being
true, why do our churches always look for potential pastors outside of their present
congregations? Why aren’t our churches raising and training their own men for
pastoral leadership? Is our current practice of forming a "pastoral search
committee" based on Scripture or the traditions of men?
"In New Testament days,
local ministry consisted of people called to serve and lead in their own locality.
Ministry used to be performed by ministers who came from within the community, rather than
by those who came from the outside and who stayed for only a few years before moving on to
the next church. Today the church looks to a school or agency hundreds of miles away for
its ‘pastor.’ Further, the turnover rate among pastors is tremendous with many
remaining in a church for less than five years" (Carl B. Hoch, Jr., All Things New
[Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995] pp.239-240).
3. The New Testament teaches that the congregational meeting is to be a
place where Christians exercise their spiritual gifts and encourage one another to love
and good deeds (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-14; 14:12,26; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews
10:24-25; 1 Peter 4:10-11). This being true, why do most of us not say or do anything
within the church service? Why is coming to church primarily a spectator event instead of
a participating event? Why have we placed our responsibility of mutual edification and
ministry into the hands of professional clergymen?
"Are we giving the members of the church an adequate opportunity
to exercise their gifts? Are our churches corresponding to the life of the New Testament
church? Or is there too much concentration in the hands of ministers and clergy? You say,
‘We provide opportunity for the gifts of others in week-night activities.’ But I
still ask, Do we manifest the freedom of the New Testament church? . . . When one looks at
the New Testament church and contrasts the church today, even our churches, with that
church, one is appalled at the difference. In the New Testament church one sees vigor and
activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its glory and of its responsibility,
with the whole church, as it were, an evangelistic force. The notion of people belonging
to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two
or three doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me it is
foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in times of revival and
of reawakening" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times [Carlisle, PA: The
Banner of Truth Trust, 1989] pp.195-196).
4. The New Testament teaches that the local church is to be edified and
ministered to by all the members present – "for the body is not one member, but
many" (1 Corinthians 12:14; cf. 14:12,26-31; Ephesians 4:16). This being true, why do
our church services focus on only one part of the body (i.e., "the pastor")?
Where, in the New Testament, is it taught that one’s man ministry or sermon is to be
the focal-point of church gatherings?
5. The New Testament teaches that every Christian is a minister and
priest before God (1Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6). This being true, why do we continue to
make such distinctions as "clergy" and "laity"? On what scriptural
basis do we divide the body of Christ into two classes of people: "clergy" and
"laity"? Moreover, if every Christian is a minister, why are we not allowed to
minister to one another within the church service?
"The New Testament simply
does not speak in terms of two classes of Christians – ‘minister’ and
‘laymen’ – as we do today. According to the Bible, the people (laos,
‘laity’) of God comprise all Christians, and all Christians through the exercise
of spiritual gifts have some ‘work of ministry.’ So if we wish to be biblical,
we will have to say that all Christians are laymen (God’s people) and all are
ministers. The clergy-laity dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew up as
an accident of church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical faithfulness.
A professional, distinct priesthood did exist in Old Testament days. But in the New
Testament this priesthood is replaced by two truths: Jesus Christ is our great high
priest, and the Church is a kingdom of priests (Hebrews 4:14; 8:1; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation
1:6). The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity
distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers
and the gifts of the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full
implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity
dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to
the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principle obstacles to the Church
effectively being God’s agent of the Kingdom today because it creates the false idea
that only ‘holy men,’ namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and
responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are
functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division
between clergy and laity" (Howard A. Snyder, The Community of the King
[Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977] pp.94-95).
6. The New Testament teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a full-on
meal within the context of joyous, brotherly fellowship (Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians
10:16-22; 11:18-34). This being true, why have we turned the Lord’s Supper into an
elaborate and even mystical ritual? Why is our current practice of the Lord’s Supper
more like a funeral than a festival? Why do we believe that only the "ordained"
clergy have the right to "administer the sacraments" when the New Testament does
not teach this?
"Still more significant is
the fact that what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper in this passage [1 Corinthians
11:20-22] is in fact a full meal – not simply the ‘elements.’ That Paul has
in mind an entire meal is evident from his statement ‘one is hungry, another is
drunk.’ It would make little sense for Paul to speak this way about the
‘elements’ (bread and wine), for obviously one’s hunger could never be
satisfied with a small broken piece of bread, nor could one become ‘drunk’ on a
shot-glass of wine. There can be no question that the Lord’s Supper consisted of an
actual meal and that the rich Christians were partaking of it before the poor arrived
(perhaps due to employment constraints on the part of the poor)" ("Rethinking
the Lord’s Supper," Part 3, New Testament Restoration Newsletter [July
1992/Vol.2, No.3] p.2).
"There is a common assumption among God’s people that as a
result of their calling, pastors have conferred on them the sacramental presence of
Christ. The ordained are donned with a holy aura not attainable by ordinary, common
believers. This myth has created a priesthood within a priesthood . . . In other words, we
have created a fiction that people of the cloth carry with them the mantle of Christ
because of the holy order that they enter . . . Unless we shift the priestly role from an
elite core to the entire body of believers, the ministry cannot be returned to the people
of God. The New Testament nowhere emphasizes a group of gifted people who uniquely mediate
the presence of Christ. The focus is on a sacramental people, not a sacramental pastor . .
. It is noteworthy that nowhere in the New Testament is a special group set apart to
protect and administer the sacraments. Leadership does not have an exclusive role in
liturgy and worship . . . The Lord’s Supper is a community meal, and Paul expects the
community to act consistent with the sacrificial death of Jesus displayed in these
elements as the purchase price of the new community. To put the meal into the hands of a
few would destroy the community sense that all participate in the sacrifice of
Christ" (Greg Ogden, The New Reformation [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990]
7. Jesus taught that His people were not to give or take upon
themselves honorific titles which set them apart from the rest of the Christian
brotherhood (Matthew 23:6-12; Mark 10:35-45). This being true, why do so many church
leaders today give themselves such lofty titles as "Reverend,"
"Minister," "Bishop," "Pastor," and "Senior
Pastor"? Why do they feel it necessary to preface their names with such titles –
particularly when the New Testament forbids it?
"There were prophets, teachers, apostles, pastors, evangelists,
leaders, elders, and deacons within the early church, but these terms were not used as
formal titles. For example, all Christians are saints, but there is no ‘Saint
John.’ All are priests, but there is no ‘Priest Philip.’ Some are elders,
but there is no ‘Elder Paul.’ Some are pastors, but there is no ‘Pastor
James.’ Some are deacons, but there is no ‘Deacon Peter.’ Some are
apostles, but there is no ‘Apostle Andrew.’ Rather than gaining honor through
titles and position, New Testament believers received honor primarily for their service
and work (Acts 15:26; Romans 16:1,2,4,12; 1 Corinthians 16:15,16,18; 2 Corinthians 8:18;
Philippians 2:29,30; Colossians 1:7; 4:12,13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:1). The
early Christians referred to each other by personal names – Timothy, Paul, Titus,
etc. – or referred to an individual’s spiritual character and work: ‘ . . .
Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit . . .’ (Acts 6:5); Barnabus,
‘ . . . a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith . . .’ (Acts
11:24); ‘ . . . . Philip the evangelist . . . ‘ (Acts 21:8); ‘Greet Prisca
and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 16:3); ‘Greet Mary, who
has worked hard for you’ (Romans 16:6); etc. The array of ecclesiastical titles
accompanying the names of Christian leaders today is completely missing from the New
Testament, and would have appalled the apostles and early believers" (Alexander
Strauch, Biblical Eldership [Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1986)
8. The New Testament teaches that Christians are to practice
hospitality towards both fellow believers and outsiders (Matthew 25:34-40; Romans 12:13; 1
Timothy 6:18; Titus 3:8,14; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). This being true, why do most of us
rarely open our homes to others? Why do so many Christians ignore the physical needs of
one another? Why is hospitality a forgotten virtue in most churches? With such an evident
lack of love and concern towards others, is it any wonder why so many of our churches are
cold and dying?
9. The early church met almost exclusively in homes as opposed to
large, religious edifices (Acts 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15;
Philemon v.2; 2 John v.10). This being true, why do we feel it necessary to spend large
sums of the Lord’s money on church buildings and cathedrals which might only be used
once or twice a week? Is this being a good steward of the financial resources which God
provides? Why do so many churches have a larger budget for building projects, staff
salaries, and maintenance than for missions, the poor, and people-oriented ministries?
What does this reveal about our priorities?
The truth is, we have inherited traditions and practices within our
churches which simply have no basis in the New Testament. Sadly, most of us have never
bothered to question or investigate these traditions. But if we are to see genuine church
renewal, we must rethink this whole thing called "church" and seek to conform
all that we say and do in light of New Testament patterns and principles.
Are you ready for the challenge and willing to "put everything to
the test and hold fast to that which is true" (1 Thessalonians 5:21; cf. Acts 17:11)?
. . . There is a better way!
Written by Darryl M. Erkel (1994)
Marjorie Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View
(Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1982).
Greg Ogden, The New Reformation: Returning the Ministry to the
People of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
David C. Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach? (England:
Paternoster Press, 1996).
Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis
& Roth Publishers, 1986).
Frank A. Viola, Rethinking the Wineskin (Brandon, FL: Present
Testimony Ministry, 1997).
Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community (Peabody,
Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers [Revised], 1994).
Del Birkey, The House Church (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press,
Eric Svendsen, The Table of the Lord (Atlanta, GA: Published by
New Testament Restoration Foundation, 1996).